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Intranets and Extranets

A well designed intranet and/or extranet is a diverse utility that can increase productivity, enhance communication, save money, empower employees, encourage new ideas and improve morale.

What does a well functioning Intranet or Extranet do?

Allows users to serve themselves.

Instead of asking different departments for needed paperwork, documentation, drawings, or other items, employees or outside vendors can access needed information from their desks.

Offers consistent information.

Every employee will get the same information. This reduces confusion and improves worker productivity.

Helps keep important information up to date.

Every department now has one place to update their relevant documentation. The potential cost savings from this advantage alone are huge. An Intranet can reduce the use of out-of-date information, assuring consistency with updated standards, protocols and practices.

Removes communication challenges.

Whether your team is in one location or across the globe, interactivity between employees, departments and teams remains consistent. Information is distributed in one location for all, increasing mobile productivity.

 

What is an Intranet?

An intranet is a private website used for internal resources and communications.

What is an Extranet?

Extranets are intranets that are made accessible to outside stakeholders.  This can be very useful if your company has internal employees, but also uses outside vendors, distributors, or other company partners.

 

Intranets

An intranet is a private website used for internal resources and communications.   Consider an intranet for your employees to:

  • Share documents
  • Collaborate in groups
  • Share event and meeting information
  • Improve communication and productivity
  • Reduce paper distribution
  • Require version control: Ensure all users are accessing the most recent documents

“Are all intranets created equal?”
Nope. Like websites, intranets vary in design, function, size and many other categories. Intranets, by definition, are rarely seen by people outside the organization.  Any company can easily compare their website to the websites of competitors; that's almost impossible to do with intranets.  
To give you an idea of some elements that every intranet should have, here are some common pages found on most intranets:

Intranet Home Page
Typical features include:

  • News items (including a way for employees to submit news items)
  • Calendar
  • Today's cafeteria menu
  • Feedback/suggestion box
  • Customized newsfeed and/or links
  • Company news & events
  • Access to HR forms and shared documents

Common Tasks Page
Main features include:

  • "My Tasks" - a way for each employee to customize the intranet to have the tasks that they specifically need to perform most often
  • "Common Tasks" - The top five tasks across the organization
  • "List of All Tasks" - shown alphabetically.  This list makes it easy to scan and find the right task.

Depending on the size and nature of the company, the size and capabilities of the intranet will vary. Employee insights will help you determine which level of intranet will suit your business.

Getting Started
A well designed Intranet of any size requires a well planned strategy. Here are some basics:

  • Keep your information up-to-date
  • Keep your team engaged in the Intranet by:
    • displaying changing and interesting information on your home page (daily cafeteria menu, employee photos, events, etc.)
    • distributing essential documents and communications
    • creating collaboration space
  • Keep it in check - don't overproduce for the size of your team.
  • Who's in charge? Keeping the Intranet fresh and up-to-date is essential, necessitating accountability
  • Adhere to good design principles.
  • Understand employee needs.
  • If it takes five or six clicks to find a vacation request form, it's too complex.

Stages of an Intranet

The information below highlights the typical grown pattern for an Intranet.  

 

Once the Intranet launches, watch how users interact with the site.  Use Google Analytics or a heatmap tool to see where users are clicking. Spending ten minutes to watch how somebody uses the intranet will give you insights you wouldn't get any other way.

One aspect that will potentially provide momentum to move from stage 1 to 2 and then 3, is accepting user content.  You want to make it easy for users to be able to add content as necessary.  You also want to let them customize the intranet to their specific needs, through things such as "My Links".

Once the system is up and running and everyone understands it, the return on investment will be significant.
 

Extranets


Extranets are essentially intranets that are made accessible to outside stakeholders.  This can be very useful if your company has internal employees, but also uses outside vendors, distributors, or other company partners.  

Extranets provide various stakeholders, outside your immediate company employees, with the information and documentation they need to perform their jobs and assist your organization.

A good extranet will provide the following to all users:

  • Easy and accessible way for information to be captured and delivered
  • Refined communications channels to all staff, partners, customers, and other outside users
  • Collaboration tools
  • Guidelines for governance and support
  • Solutions to collaborate with other internal and external service providers such as HR, IT and finance

Extranets provide a remote access to collaboration and document management tools for all key stakeholders.  This increases mobile productivity by eliminating the need for external partners to seek information directly from the company employees.  

Some examples of successful extranet tools include:

  • People finder
  • Document repository
  • Team space
  • Search function
  • Newsletter

Communication is enhanced and encouraged between employees and external partners through extranet technologies.

"Okay, I get it..."

“It seems like a good idea, but I’m not sure exactly how I would implement it in my company.”
We’re here to help. We’ve designed intranets and extranets for companies with various needs. Let’s chat about what you’re trying to accomplish, then build you an intranet/extranet that bridges your internal communications gaps.

Or, feel free to visit our headquarters to learn more about Intranets and Extranets.

But Don't Take Our Word For It.

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- Natascha Malkemes, Director of Marketing, Lutheran Social Services of WI & Upper MI, Inc.

I just have a lot of admiration for the Northwoods team. This is world-class intelligence and quality. I don’t know how Northwoods managed to assemble so many excellent people in one place.

- James Shafstall, Digital Marketing Lead, The Vollrath Company

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